Another international day as I toured Seoul in 1994, modern-day Bangladesh, and Germany in 1945. Turns out life is universally hard everywhere all the time.
House of Hummingbird
While Our Ladies go on a raucous day trip to Edinburgh in Seoul a teenage girl named Eunhee (Park Ji-hu) is having a very different childhood. In a cramped apartment she lives with a sister who brings her boyfriend back to their shared bedroom, a brother who beats her regularly, and parents who fight and make-up on a repeated cycle.
Over 140 minutes we live with Eunhee as she navigates the roller-coaster of adolescence. We watch as friends and romance drift in and out of her life, health scares rise and fall, and her family dynamics border on unbearable. We see the occasional flares of hope as Eunhee makes meaningful human connections, and share in her despair when loved ones let her down. Throughout it all Eunhee remains as a constant, unable to do anything but weather the storm.
This is Kim Bora’s debut film as director and she has made an intimate epic. Over the landscape of a few months in on child’s life her film explores so much. The film is long but somehow could have been half or twice the length. Like life House of Hummingbird doesn’t have a neat, finite plot. Instead it comes with the sense that Eunhee exists outside the parameters of the film and we are only glimpsing a part of her story.
A tender story that shows us a rich picture of South Korea with no filters. The running time might test the patience of some but I could have gone for another round.
Made in Bangladesh
Shimu (Rikita Shimu) is a machinist at a clothing factory in Bangladesh. She works all day, and occasionally all night, to pay the rent and support her unemployed husband. In a given day she will touch thousands of garments and earn less in a month than those basic t-shirts will sell for.
Following a fatal incident at the factory Shimu finds herself as the unlikely leader of a unionising movement in her factory. As Shimu tries to gather evidence and rally support to create a union she clashes with her exploitative employers, nervous friends, and her husband who would rather she kept a lower profile. The fight for basic worker’s rights is often a literal one.
Far from the English films that share this synopsis Made in Bangladesh is light on comic relief and moments of rousing triumph. Shimu’s journey is not easy; it is filled with slow administration, conflict with real consequences, and no promise of a happy ending. As a result it isn’t particularly enjoyable to watch. A pathetic thing to say given to subject matter but there we go.
Made in Bangladesh should be eye-opening to any Westerner with little interest in the providence of their wardrobe. The film feels authentic but also a little inert and lacks a real climax.
What draws attention when it comes to Jojo Rabbit is the striking visual of writer-director Taika Waititi playing Hitler while trying to make us laugh. Thankfully there is more to Jojo Rabbit than meets the eye, and a lot less Hitler than you might expect. That said, every time a swastika appeared onscreen various parts of me clenched up.
Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) lives in Germany with his devoted mother (Scarlett Johansson) during the final year of WWII. Jojo is a devoted member of Hitler Youth and is passionate, if ill-informed, about the Nazi cause. His mania for the Third Reich extends so far that his imaginary friend is a chirpy, encouraging version of Adolf Hitler himself. Jojo and Hitler’s relationship is put to the test when Jojo discovers that his mother is secretly hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their house.
Confronted with both his mother’s secret political leanings, and the reality of an actual human Jewish girl, Jojo starts to question the beliefs that define him.
And this is a comedy!
Waititi mines laughs through his silly portrayal of Hitler and the overall depiction of Nazi’s as bumbling oafs in a Wes Anderson-style version of Germany. Rebel Wilson, Sam Rockwell, and Alfie Allen play three slapstick Nazi officers while Johansson is left to bring heart and humanity to the film as the World’s Best Mum Ever™. Throughout the film the audience I was in roared with collective laughter as the horrors of Nazi Germany were undermined by witty lines, comic set pieces, and general gurning.
And then just when we were all relaxed and laughing at Hitler & co. Waititi would pull the rug out and make painfully clear the real horror that the Nazi war machine wrought. Jojo Rabbit is a laugh riot until you are hit in the gut. The gasps of surprise were just as audible as the guffaws.
Jojo Rabbit walks a fine line between satire and distaste but ultimately I think it lands on the right side. I was expecting to laugh, and I certainly did, but I wasn’t expecting to be moved too. Tentatively I’d called the film a success but I have to admit there’s a part of me wondering why they wanted to make it in the first place.
Second guessing yourself every time you laugh can be exhausting.